Rejuvenated Ruminations expand last year's material by Bright Eyes singer Conor Oberst on a surprise companion album called Salutations. Released this month with alternate versions of the ten existing acoustic songs, it also includes new tracks.
Conor Oberst's excellent 2016 track "A Little Uncanny" started circulating again, recently, but it's different this time… there's something… something… there's a band! Oberst had originally planned the songs to be played by a band but the acoustic demos moved him to release them solo, as Ruminations. Now, he's gone back and followed through on his original scheme for the LP, adding seven new tracks along the way.
Oberst was diagnosed with a cyst on his brain during the winter and it led him to record the songs alone, in his home in Nebraska. The songs had an urgent, delicate, vulnerable feeling behind the rough guitar and breathy harmonica. Their lyrics, emphasized by the minimal instrumental accompaniment, were painful and funny and critical, some of Oberst's most personal writing.
Now they're filled up with the sounds of a band and carry themselves with a sturdier, more energetic gait. Where the acoustic album started with "Tachycardia," Salutations bumps it to track ten and opens with the new addition, "Too Late to Fixate," a song about guilty privileges and personal crisis. "My wife takes a vacation / One she can't afford," he sings, "Though it might get expensive / It's cheaper than divorce." Meanwhile "Tachycardia" remains soft and sad but with a pretty harmony behind Oberst's mourning.
"A Little Uncanny" has captured the spotlight for the moment, its cleverly critical lyrics energized by the amplified band behind them. This song especially benefits from the extra musicians, making it into a funny, lolling ballad about the state of things and the absurdity of it all. It's a better fit for the title "Pure Comedy." I can't think of another word to describe the instrumental jam at the end better than rollicking.
"Napalm," a new song, explodes with adventure in the words and in the distorted guitar, the funky organ, the excited drums. Oberst's voice shakes with vigor rather than with vulnerability while he sings about carpet bombs and three-alarm fires. There's no loneliness audible here, where his vocals lead the band like in a live performance. It's one of the best examples of the contrast between the two albums, whose material is mostly the same but whose emotional result is wildly different.
With an album as raw and restrained as Ruminations, the emphasis is on the lyrics and their dance with the guitar. To release this album after recording it in two days, alone, essentially as a demo tape, is daring and underscores the sense of being alone present in the lyrics of the original ten songs. Salutations isn't merely a remix tape, even if it lacked the new tracks. It inflates the previous album with new and thrilling vitality. And the seven added songs extend a lonely walk in the woods into a roaring road trip.